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About the Candidate

Name: Jacob Meister
DOB: April 21, 1965
Occupation: Attorney
Political Experience: 2010 Illinois Senate candidate, 2016 Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Candidate
Twitter: @JacobForClerk

Candidate Statement

I’m Jacob Meister, a progressive reformer running for Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

All across Illinois, voters are rising up and demanding an end to a corrupt political machine.

We’ve seen a tidal wave of reform candidates swept into office and Chicago has made history, electing a political outsider as Mayor, with a clear mandate to reform the City’s corrupt ways.

As a civil rights lawyer and community organizer, it’s been my life’s work to fight for justice, equality, and inclusion.

I’ve fought for teachers refused a fair wage, autistic children denied a proper public education, and a baby denied a heart transplant. And now I’m ready to fight for our court system.

The current state of the Clerk’s office is inexcusable. Taxpayers have been promised sweeping changes to the system for two decades. Millions of dollars later, the office is in worse shape than ever with Cook County lagging behind other court systems.

Here are four immediate changes I will make:

ONE - I will advocate for an independent Inspector General, with enforcement authority, to oversee ethics, hiring and firing.

TWO - I will move our courts away from an antiquated paper-based records system to a fully digital system so that files are available electronically and also make sure that courtroom clerks are trained in electronic records management.

THREE - I will bring access to justice to every neighborhood by installing computer filing kiosks in public libraries for those who cannot afford a lawyer, have no access to a computer, or can’t afford to miss time from work to file documents.

FOUR - I will implement an electronic ticketing system in every police car in the county so moving violations are automated and printed at the time the ticket is written.

I am Jacob Meister. I’m the progressive reform candidate for Clerk of the Court and I hope you’ll join me in my fight to bring reform to Cook County.

Candidate Q&A

Why are you running?

Justice is on the ballot on March 17, 2020 and the citizens of Cook County deserve a court system that is modern and efficient.

There is near-universal agreement that the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office is broken, both operationally and ethically, steeped in decades of patronage and riddled with inefficiencies, and antiquated systems and inadequate technology. I know firsthand the desperate need for change in both the operation and culture of the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office. I believe my plans for the office - utilizing new technology to create efficiency, prioritizing customer service, increasing transparency, and increasing access to the justice system for those who do not have a lawyer - will help fix the court system and have a positive impact on the lives of Cook County residents. I will put an end to bureaucratic gridlock that denies citizens of their day in court, lost paperwork that leaves cases in limbo and hastily scrawled handwritten notes that too frequently results in errors -- wrongful evictions, inmates spending days or weeks in jail and children being taken from their parents. These inefficiencies and errors destroy lives and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Most importantly, I will increase access to the justice system for all residents of Cook County, not just a few. Having access to a computer or the ability to take time off work to travel to a courthouse should not be an obstacle for those whose lives are being affected by the justice system. Electronic filing kiosks should be available in every public library in the county so that residents can get assistance with court filings and don’t need to take time off work to travel to a courthouse during business hours.

What is your vision for this office?

Cook County has the second-largest court system in the country, responsible for processing over 1.5 million cases each year - ranging from traffic tickets to child custody cases to matters of probate and larger issues of social justice. My vision is a Circuit Court Clerk’s office that operates the court system effectively and efficiently so the focus is on justice instead of bureaucracy. As the next Clerk of the Circuit Court, I will immediately begin the process of modernizing and upgrading the Court’s financial, case management and document management computer systems putting Cook County in line with other court systems around the country and Illinois. We also need to ensure that the Court’s computer systems integrate all stakeholders in the justice system, including all municipalities in the County, the Sheriff, State’s Attorney, Public Defender, Department of Corrections and private attorneys, among others. In addition to fixing the operational issues faced in the Cook County Court System, I will change the culture of corruption and patronage that for years has been ingrained in this office by machine politicians and party politics. We must have a court system that is open and transparent and provides equal access to justice for all Cook County residents. 

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?

Right now in Cook County, we have a Clerk of the Circuit Courts office that is broken both operationally and ethically. Years of patronage, pay to play and mismanagement have left us with a justice system that doesn’t work for the residents of Cook County that are in most need. On my first day in office, I will be instituting a new system that will provide increased access to the justice system for residents in all areas of our county.

Residents should have access to the clerk’s office in their communities. Working families find it difficult to make it to a courthouse during the workday, just to file paperwork and the online filing system is so difficult to navigate that those who don’t have a lawyer simply cannot file online without assistance. I plan on installing electronic filing kiosks in libraries and government buildings around Cook County so residents that do not have access to a computer or the time to take off work to travel to a courthouse will be able to get assistance with filing necessary paperwork or check on the status of their case, whether it is criminal or civil.

I have been practicing law in the Cook County courts and around the country for 29 years and I know how a professional, effective and efficient court system should be run. I have a good working relationship with the judiciary and will be able to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to resolve the ethical and operational problems that plague the Clerk’s office. To ensure my Administration is headed in the right direction, I will establish a policy panel of stakeholders in the court system, comprised of attorneys, judges, public defenders, municipal officials, state’s attorneys, sheriff’s department personnel, litigants and others who will provide guidance on ways that the Clerk’s office can be improved and better serve the needs of stakeholders and the public.